Mushrooms and 3D printing: green fashion is here

Built to last: These clothes were made by designer Danit Peleg using a 3D printer.

Should we all be wearing mushrooms and pineapple leaves? Our fast-fashion culture is wrecking the planet, so innovative companies are creating sustainable fabrics from unlikely sources.

On Tuesday evening, a funeral procession marched through central London. “RIP LONDON FASHION WEEK,” read the black coffins. The protest was organised by Extinction Rebellion, which says the fashion industry is “complicit in [Earth’s] destruction”.

Across social media, thousands have pledged to give up buying new clothes for #SecondHandSeptember. They believe that we should reduce the millions of tons of unwanted clothes that are thrown away each year. Almost a third are incinerated or go to landfill.

Wasted water, carbon emissions, chemical pollution and sweatshop labour… After years of naivety or wilful blindness, society is waking up to the immense cost of fast fashion.

But what comes next?

The hunt is on for sustainable fabrics that don’t waste huge amounts of water (like cotton), and don’t pollute the environment (like synthetic materials).

For an answer, many companies are turning to the vegetable world.

Mycelium, grown from the root structure of mushrooms, has been hailed as a “wonder material” because it can be grown into a fixed shape within a few days.

Bolt Threads, a US “materials innovation company” founded in 2009, uses mycelium to create its Mylo “leather”, which has graced the catwalk in designs by Stella McCartney. The firm’s MicroSilk product is woven from the same proteins as a spider’s web.

Spanish brand Piñatex has developed a leather-like substance made from discarded pineapple leaves, which has been used by Hugo Boss and H&M. Banana-based fabrics also are in the works.

But, in the meantime, climate experts agree that we all need to be buying less clothing.

“I don’t think you should consider buying any item of clothing unless you commit to 30 wears. Unless you can do that, you’re not even starting to be sustainable,” said Dr Richard Blackburn, a sustainable materials specialist. “You are creating a waste problem.”

In the UK, consumers buy twice as many new clothes as they did a decade ago.

The fashion industry accounts for around 10% of the world’s total emissions, or more than all international flights combined. It is also responsible for 20% of the world’s waste water. A huge 15,000 litres of water is needed to make one pair of jeans.

Should we all start wearing mushroom and pineapple?

Green is the new black

It is the only option. By 2030, the industry’s water consumption will grow by 50% to over 31 trillion gallons. Its carbon footprint will rise to 2,791 million tons per year. Efforts from brands to reduce water, energy and chemical use in traditional textiles is helping slowly, but we need a radical solution to avoid disaster. Biodegradable fashion is the future.

But there’s nothing inherently wrong with most of the fabrics we use now. The problem is when clothes are so low-priced and of such low-quality that they are thrown out the next week. You might find mushroom shoes and pineapple jackets in a lab, but not at your local shop. The important thing right now is to practise slow, thoughtful fashion. Buy fewer clothes ⁠— be they cotton, leather or denim ⁠— but value them more, and for longer.

You Decide

  1. Would you wear clothes made of mushrooms?
  2. What is the biggest challenge we face in fighting the climate crisis?

Activities

  1. Design your own sustainable outfit. What would it be made of?
  2. Make a plan and a budget for how you could reduce your consumption of fast fashion.

Some People Say...

“In difficult times, fashion is always outrageous.”

Elsa Schiaparelli (1890-1973), French fashion designer

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
The fashion industry is one of the most polluting industries on Earth. In 2015, it produced 1.2 billion tons of carbon emissions — which is the same as all international flights and shipping put together. Clothing factories also release toxic bleach, pesticides and dyes into the environment, while wasting huge amounts of water.
What do we not know?
What exactly the fashion of the future will look like. Experts expect that we will move away from toxic chemical dyes. Expect fashion of the future to come in muted, natural tones like beige and white. However, as technology develops it is possible that we will be able to make sustainable replicas of most of the materials we use today.

Word Watch

LONDON FASHION WEEK
Ran from last Friday to Tuesday. Each year, fashion designers from across the world come to exhibit their new collections at exclusive catwalk shows.
Extinction Rebellion
An environment protest group that uses civil disobedience to pressure the Government into taking action on the climate crisis.
Sweatshop labour
A factory or workshop, often located in a developing country, where workers are employed with very low wages, long hours and in poor conditions.
Sustainable
When production of something can be maintained at the same level indefinitely.
Synthetic
Man-made fabrics containing microfibres which are released in washing machines and flow into the water supply.

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